It is only in Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Malaysia that one press chief after another in the mainstream mass media, whether printed or electronic, could be removed without any proper accounting or ripple while the top UMNO leadership continued in their wayang kulit that they had never interfered with press freedom in the country!
AFP yesteday reported that the latest victim of Mahathir’s media stranglehold, Datuk Kadir Jasin, had stayed silent about his ouster as editor-in-chief of the country’s largest newspaper group, only confirming that he had gone on six months' leave from Tuesday.
Kadir declined to comment on reports that he had either been fired or stepped down after 14 years at the helm of the New Straits Times Press group.
"I don't want to say anything. I have no comments at this moment," Kadir told AFP.
Kadir would not have any comments whether “at this moment” or another moment, for he would otherwise jeopardise his chances of being pastured to some comfortable government or corporate sinecure like other victims before him.
Although he had failed like another one of his victim-predecessor in 1986 of showing “110% loyalty” and not just giving “100% loyalty” to Dr. Mahathir, he is still assured of a life of comfort under the Barisan Nasional patronage and might even hope of being appointed as a Senator if he behaved himself and does not rock the boat.
Malaysians must ask why there is such a pall of silence in Malaysian journalist circles, whether the National Union of Journalists or the Press Club at the latest case of press victimisation.
My friend, the late K. Das, a distinguished journalist in his life-time,
had occasion in July 1990 to question the culture of subservience at such
periodic seismic victimisations in the Malaysian mass media when he said
in a seminar on Malaysia media and ethical standards:
Nothing has changed in the last decade. In fact, the condition of Malaysian journalism has got even worse!
I would have spoken up in Parliament against the victimisation of Kadir Jasin if I am still an MP. Can the NUJ and the Press Club explain why they are so silent and subservient in the latest case of mass media victimisation? Or do they think that Kadir deserved what he got?
Regardless of whether NUJ or the Press Club dare to take a stand for press freedom and journalistic integrity, Malaysian journalists should come forward to demand the restoration of press freedom in Malaysia and the end of all forms of press censorship, victimisation and discrimination.
Meanwhile, an editorial committee has been set up roping in two veteran journalists Tan Sri Samad Ismail and Datuk Mazlan Nordin as consultants as to how to reverse the newspaper’s declining circulation.
One would have thought that it does not require veteran journalists of the calibre of Samad and Mazlan to give the answer, which is plain and obvious to all - that UMNO should release its stranglehold and allow the New Straits Times to be run as a newspaper and not as a government gazette and even worse, as a propaganda broadsheet of the ruling parties.
New Straits Times would be able to engineer an instant increase of circulation if it gives fair and proper space and coverage to news, statements and speeches of Barisan Alternative leaders and NGOs.
But is the New Straits Times permitted to be a newspaper again?